The Importance of Wearing Your Retainer After Orthodontic Treatment

It’s an important day and has been marked on your calendar for a year. Your braces are finally coming off and your smile is perfect!

You have worked hard to achieve this milestone. When your orthodontist removes the braces (whether you have traditional braces or clear aligners), they will also discuss the next step in the treatment, which is the retainer. This device will ensure that all your hard work isn’t undone by your teeth shifting back into misalignment. It’s a small price to pay for a lifetime with a bright, confident smile.

In this article, we will discuss, in more detail, the purpose of the retainer after braces, as well as the various types available and how often you’ll need to use your retainer. 

Why Use a Retainer After Orthodontic Treatment?

Think of the retainer as just that: a device that will retain those straight, beautifully aligned teeth. You worked hard, along with your orthodontist and dentist, to achieve it. The retainer will make sure your teeth settle into their new places and protect the investment in time and money you made to get there.

The term for this part of your treatment is orthodontic retention. Your teeth will shift a bit after the removal of your braces as well as after the retainer is no longer needed all day. This period is especially true for teens and children because their bones aren’t finished developing. Even with adults, though, the shifting is the result of daily wear and tear on the teeth caused by chewing, speaking, biting, and swallowing. 

The job of the retainer is to hold your teeth in place, especially during the “settling in” phase. Without the retainer, your teeth will quickly move back to their previous positions. In other words, their crooked and misaligned positions. If you don’t use the retainer as directed by your orthodontist, you may find yourself back in braces. You don’t want that and neither does your orthodontist.

To prevent this, your orthodontist will have a customized retainer made for you. It will be molded to your new smile, with the teeth in their new positions. By following the directions of your orthodontist regarding when to wear it, your teeth will settle in and remain in alignment. Eventually, the time you must use the retainer will be lessened until you may only need it a few times a week at night. 

What Types of Retainers Are Available?

There are several kinds of retainers available, and this will be discussed by your orthodontist as it gets closer to the end of your braces treatment plan. There are three common types of retainers: removable, fixed, and clear aligners. Here is some information on each:

Removable Retainers

As the name states, you take this retainer out of your mouth yourself when needed. It makes eating, brushing, and flossing easy, as well as cleaning the retainer itself. You no longer have to avoid certain kinds of foods and your daily oral health routine isn’t disrupted. The only disadvantage is losing it when it’s out of your mouth. For this reason, you must get in the habit of always placing the retainer in its case when it’s not in your mouth.

Fixed Retainers

This retainer is bonded to your teeth and remains fixed in place until removed by your orthodontist. It is made up of a wire bonded to the reverse side of the teeth and is just as effective as the removable retainers in keeping the teeth in their new positions. And since it stays in your mouth, there is no chance of losing it like the removable retainer.

One disadvantage of the fixed retainer is the difficulty in keeping it clean. This means you will need to avoid certain foods that tend to get stuck to the wire. Another disadvantage is brushing and flossing around the retainer. Your oral hygiene routine may take more time and require more attention.

Clear Retainers

Clear plastic retainers fit snugly over the teeth, very similarly to the clear aligners sometimes used during active treatment (like Invisalign). There is one tray for the top teeth and one for the bottom teeth and are nearly invisible when worn. There is no metal, and most patients report that clear retainers are more comfortable to wear.

Your orthodontist will provide you with a schedule for wearing these clear retainers and removing them for eating, brushing, and flossing. You will also need to clean the retainer periodically. Remember, you must store the retainers in their case whenever you remove them so you don’t misplace them.

The clear aligner retainers must be replaced periodically since they aren’t designed to last a long time. If they crack, your orthodontist will have new retainers made so your teeth don’t shift back into their former places.

Your orthodontist will help you decide which type of retainer is best for your needs.

How Long Is It Necessary to Wear Retainers After Braces or Aligners?

Yes, you’re anxious to be finished with braces and other devices in your mouth. So you’re probably wondering exactly how long you have to wear retainers after Invisalign or braces. That’s understandable but it’s important to understand why the retainer is critical to achieving the long-term results you want. 

The alternative is having your teeth move back into their misaligned positions, requiring the need for braces again. For this reason, follow your orthodontist’s instructions for wearing your retainer, for as long as they tell you. This will protect your investment in time and money to straighten your teeth. Of course, if you are using the fixed retainer, this isn’t an issue, as it stays in your mouth until your orthodontist removes it. 

Each patient is different, but in general, you will wear the removable or clear aligner retainer for about 20 hours a day for the first three to six months. This is the most important time for extended use of the retainer. It is keeping your teeth in their new positions and preventing the teeth from slowly moving back into their previous places.

After six months, your orthodontist may instruct you to wear the retainer only at night while you sleep for the next few years. Eventually, you will be using the retainer for only a few nights every week, but it is necessary to use the retainer on a long-term basis.

Retainers After Orthodontic Treatment Are Critical to Protecting Your Investment

A retainer preserves the work you put into having the beautiful smile you have always wanted. Without this device, your newly-aligned teeth will slip back into their previous positions, erasing your hard work with braces. 

There are several types of retainers and your orthodontist will recommend the type best-suited for your goals. They will also provide instructions for how long to wear the retainer each day until you will only need it a few times each week at night. It’s a small price to pay to keep that smile beautiful!

The team here at Reed & Sahlaney Orthodontics can not only help you achieve a straight, beautiful smile but also help ensure that it stays that way once you are done with your active treatment. Contact us today if you have any questions about the role of the retainer in your overall treatment plan.